About the Organisation
Views & Perspectives
Funding & Connections
About the Organisation
1. What is the Dialogue Society?
The Dialogue Society is a registered charity, established in London in 1999, with the aim of advancing social cohesion by connecting communities through dialogue. It does this by bringing people together through discussion forums, courses, publications and outreach. It operates nation-wide with regional branches across the UK.
2. What type of organisation are you?
The Dialogue Society combines the features of a number of types of organisations. Through its discussion forums, community co-ordinators and outreach it seeks to connect communities and people by targeting the grassroots of society. Through its courses and community publications it aims to build capacity for dialogue by empowering engagement. Through its research fellows, academic and community publications and workshops and conferences it develops and proposes new ideas for meaningful dialogue. In that sense, the Dialogue Society is a centre of research and civic engagement (or a Think&Do tank) developing and delivering ideas for meaningful dialogue.
3. What does your organisation stand for?
Specifically, we stand for promoting dialogue, firstly as a natural and basic expression of the human person and secondly for overcoming pressing social problems through open, honest, candid and critical engagement.
More generally we stand for democracy, human rights, the non-instrumentalisation of religion in politics, equality and freedom of speech. We oppose undermining democratic values and human right norms in the pursuit of any political or religious ideology and discriminating against others on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or age.
4. What do you mean by dialogue?
At the Dialogue Society, we understand dialogue to consist of meaningful interaction and exchange between people of different groups (social, cultural, political and religious) and individuals who come together through various kinds of conversations or activities with a view to increased understanding.
5. What is your target audience?
Overall, the Dialogue Society's target audience is a proportional cross-section of people from different backgrounds living and working within the regions in which we operate.
In addition to bringing people together across cultural and religious lines, we are concerned to bring together people from the following sectors: academia, the public sector, the community sector and the media. The work done by relevant professionals and volunteers within all these sectors can have a significant impact on the character of society. However, while each sector has a role to play in helping society to develop in a cohesive and empathic direction, channels of communication between them can be lacking and they can easily become insular. We aim to bring the different sectors into a creative, constructive dialogue that will inform and enhance the work of all.
6. How do you have an impact on wider society?
We try to ensure that we have an impact on wider society above and beyond those already interested in dialogue through the following means. First, we have an ongoing awareness of the need to reach wider and deeper into society which informs our ongoing evaluation and planning processes. Second, we ensure that our events are formulated in such a way as to ensure maximum attendance, be that through publicity, accessibility or topic selection. Third, we focus on systematic and continuous outreach through our community co-ordinators whose sole role it is to reach the grassroots by being out in the community. Fourth, we realise that one of our greatest means of having an impact on wider society is through empowering existing structures, organisations and mechanisms to be more dialogue oriented. We achieve this kind of empowerment through our community co-ordinators who support existing projects and organisations to be more dialogic and through our community publications which provide motivation, guidance and resources for groups and organisations to adopt a more dialogue oriented approach or to maximise the dialogue output of their existing activities.
7. How do you measure your impact?
The field within which we operate and the nature of the work that we do makes the measuring of specific outcomes very challenging. Our objectives require us not only to target a wider than usual audience but also to improve something as intangible as dialogue between different groups within that target audience. Both factors make outcomes difficult to measure.
That said, we have started to introduce tailored questionnaires to our events, measuring before and after event/course feedback to see what, if any, impact the event has had. In addition, we have appointed a member of staff to develop measuring models to audit the impact of our work.
In addition to these we are able to surmise impact from indirect indicators, however inconclusive, such as the following: (a) financial support to the Dialogue Society has continued despite the financial crisis which has impacted the voluntary sector (b) our events have become self-sustaining in terms of interest, support and progress (c) number of people attending our events has increased (d) number of credible organisations wanting to partner with us has grown (e) number of new branches opened and local support shown to these branches continues to grow (f) number of organisations seeking our consultancy has increased (g) number of unique visits to our website continues to grow significantly and more people are joining our mailing list online and (h) increasing number of people are downloading our publications online.
Views & Perspectives
8. What are your views on gender equality and discrimination of any type?
The Dialogue Society believes in equality between men and women. We believe that women can fill any of the public roles that men continue to dominate. In fact, in many ways we believe that women are more adept at dialogue than men. Women are active at every level at the Dialogue Society, including senior management.
The Dialogue Society is against discrimination on any grounds, such as race, religion, creed, gender, sexual orientation, age. The Dialogue Society opposes any form of hatred towards any group, however manifested, including Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia and racism.
9. Do you have any views on how violent extremism should be tackled, especially among Muslims?
Violent extremism is an illness that has afflicted and continues to afflict many groups or sub-groups within society. This is not a problem unique to Muslims. At the Dialogue Society, we consider violent extremism as inexcusable and utterly abhorrent whatever the reasons that are offered. Islam is very clear on its teachings regarding those who kill others indiscriminately: he who kills one person is as if he has killed the whole of humankind.
For our views on how to tackle violent extremism please look at the following policy reflection publication: The Dialogue Society, 'Deradicalisation by Default: The 'Dialogue' Approach to Rooting out Violent Extremism'
10. What are your views on intractable conflicts in other parts of the world? Why do you remain silent on such issues?
The Dialogue Society is focused on facilitating dialogue in the UK. There are plenty of UK based organisations focusing on conflict resolution overseas. We believe we are best placed to focus on domestic dialogue without also trying to develop an expertise in international conflicts or conflict resolution overseas.
What is more, a state of conflict is a symptom of a chain of events which caused it to come about. As with our 'deradicalisation by default' approach to tackling violent extremism, we are focused on facilitating dialogue earlier in the timeline of that chain of events. We believe that such efforts can help avoid conflict arising in the first place. Finally, sometimes intractable problems are made more intractable by the number of voices trying to be heard.
That said, we believe that such conflicts, be they local, regional or international, need to be resolved peacefully and where possible through the United Nations and other international bodies. To give only a few examples, the human suffering caused in the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir, wars in and between African nations and of course the Israel-Palestine conflicts are all deeply worrying. Given its prominence and long-lasting and grave effects, we would also like to take this opportunity to stress that we support the two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, where both states may peacefully co-exist side by side.
Funding & Connections
11. Where does your funding come from?
Our 'work output' is disproportionate to 'funding input' since most of our work is achieved through the efforts of volunteers and interns, and in-kind support from a range of people in a number of specialist fields including accounting, branding, design and printing and legal work. Therefore, there is a substantial difference between the market value of the work we do and the actual cost to the Dialogue Society of the work achieved.
The Dialogue Society is primarily funded by private donations from people based in the UK including students, teachers, small business owners and professionals. In addition we organise fund-raising activities, distribute collection boxes, sell books and offer room-hire.
The Dialogue Society has been working within the community since 1999. For many years it worked without any office or any paid staff. It has grown as people have come to admire its work and have supported the goodwill of the people volunteering for it. It is because of this that it has the supporters and sponsors it has today.
We are not in receipt of any local or national government funding. In recent years we received partial funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government for a specific piece of work. We have started to apply to independent grant-making bodies where these are open to funding the kind of projects in which we are engaged. We do not accept funding from foreign governments.
12. Are you aligned with any political party or political movement?
The Dialogue Society is not aligned with any political party or with any specific political movement. Politically, we are non-partisan.
13. Why do you meet with policy-makers?
Meeting with policy-makers is a very small part of our work and is something we do as part of our attempt to communicate and exchange ideas with diverse groups and sectors. We meet with policy-makers to inform them of our work and note any feedback or suggestions they may have. We do not lobby them in any way.
14. Are you a religious or ethnic organisation?
While the Dialogue Society was founded by British Muslims of Turkish background inspired by their Islamic faith, it is neither a religious (Islamic/Muslim) or ethnic (Turkish) organisation. At most, it is an organisation led by Muslims since the current directors are Muslim. The Dialogue Society aims to serve society at large without being (mistaken for) an organisation for one particular ethnic or religious community or another. The Dialogue Society team includes non-Muslims and our Board of Advisors includes Christians, non-Turkish Muslims, atheists and agnostics. We target and attract people of all backgrounds and religions for our events. In the past, we have organised understanding Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, the Baha'i faith and Christianity events.
15. What caused the founding of the Dialogue Society?
The founding of the Dialogue Society was inspired by the Turkish scholar and peace advocate Fethullah Gülen. Gülen is an Islamic scholar speaking from a perspective founded on Islamic sources. His exposition of Islam has always been very open, inclusive, loving and peaceful. Therefore, those influenced by his scholarship have also adopted an open, inclusive, loving and peaceful interpretation and approach in their faith. This approach is conducive to dialogue.
More specifically, in the early 1990s Gülen began emphasising the importance of 'organised and consistent dialogue' and promoted the founding or dialogue groups and organisations. During this time, he set an example by visiting religious and ethnic leaders such as the Patriarch of the Turkish Orthodox community, the Patriarch of the Turkish Armenian community, the Chief Rabbi of the Turkish Jewish community, leaders of the Turkish Alawi community, Pope John Paul II and the chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel. He was personally involved in setting up the Journalists and Writers Foundation which organised many dialogue events bringing together people from opposing viewpoints and divergent lifestyles. These initiatives had a significant, nationwide impact in Turkey with reactions documented in the newspaper columns of the time.
So Gülen's teachings coupled with his concrete example from 1994 onwards were the stimulus for the founding of the Dialogue Society in London. In addition to the original inspiration, we adopted the following principles or points of view from Gülen's teachings and practice (not exhaustive):
a. We must come together around our humanness: 'we are human first, then Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu or other'
b. We must embrace one another: 'there must be a place for everyone in your heart'
c. Peace is default: 'however difficult, peace must be sought'
d. Dialogue is valuable in and of itself, regardless of its outcome
e. Dialogue is a natural human expression and diversity is an intended phenomenon
f. Dialogue should be as extensive as possible and not be narrowly framed
g. Dialogue should be positive and proactive and focus on developing greater understanding and trust
h. Dialogue should focus on core social issues, developing a stronger sense of belonging and concern for one another
16. What does it mean to be Fethullah Gülen inspired?
Fethullah Gülen is an Islamic scholar and peace advocate. He is credited with inspiring a transnational social movement to engage in education and dialogue, contributing towards greater understanding and peaceful relations. The movement is faith inspired yet faith neutral and is increasingly attracting support from people of diverse backgrounds and religions. The movement is loosely connected through shared ideals and principles.
Those participating in the movement do not refer to themselves as 'Gülen inspired' in Turkish or among themselves. In Turkish, they usually refer to themselves as people engaged in Hizmet. Hizmet (translated as service), is the term by which people within the movement refer to the movement. In that sense, those in this movement can be called Hizmet participants or Hizmet volunteers.
Hizmet participants have identified themselves (and have been identified by others) as Gülen inspired mainly in the English speaking world, because Gülen provides the main interpretive framework that acts as general guides and principles for Hizmet and because Gülen was and continues to be better known than the movement. As a result it was and continues to be easier to identify people in relation to Gülen (a known public figure) rather than a far less known, less tangible movement.
That said, what does it mean to be a Hizmet participant/Gülen inspired?
The term is usually used to mean the following: a person may be considered to be a Hizmet participant or Gülen inspired if he or she shares the core values and principles of Hizmet and actively supports its activities. Active support can vary in nature and extent. The point is that the person does what he or she can and is willing to do. A person who receives a salary for the work that he or she does may (continue to) be a Hizmet participant or Gülen inspired if the main motivation behind his or her work is not the salary but the ideals and goals of the movement's activities.
How a person becomes a Hizmet participant or becomes Gülen inspired is a different question. Since the movement is not a single legal entity and has no centralised structure there is no formal way of joining or leaving the movement. One is as much in or as much out as he or she feels engaged and supportive of the movement. It is entirely relative. What is more, what moves or inspires a person to develop a sense of support for the movement can vary from one person to another. That is the nature of inspiration.
Having said that, we can perhaps point out that often people are inspired to become active in the movement as a result of seeing the example or practice of the movement, or the people within the movement. They may come across the example before they realise that this example is based on core values and principles rearticulated by Fethullah Gülen. Certainly, some may come into contact with Gülen as a public figure before they come into contact with the movement. But even then, the example and practice of Gülen's devout and Sufi lifestyle is usually what gives his teachings credibility and influence amongst his audience. So usually the source of inspiration is coming into contact with the example and practice of the movement as well as the teachings and principles. And the most common form of practice which inspires people vis-à-vis the Hizmet movement in our experience is seeing what can be achieved collectively through good-will and mutual support as opposed to what is achieved individually.
17. How do you explain the malicious allegations being made by some people against Fethullah Gülen and the movement?
Firstly we need to differentiate between criticism and malicious allegation. Everyone has a right to criticise and that criticism should be encouraged and welcomed. So what we say below only relates to 'malicious allegations' and not criticisms of any sort. Secondly, Gülen and the movement continue to be the subject of numerous studies issuing from a range of academic disciplines. Gülen encourages scrutiny and critique and sees it as a learning process for the movement.
Allegations vary but some of the most oft repeated are the following (there is often contradiction between the different allegations): the movement is trying to Islamise Turkey/US; the movement is trying to Christianise Turkey for the benefit of the West; the movement is trying to infiltrate established institutions; the movement is Saudi/Iranian/CIA funded; Gülen is a secret cardinal; Gülen is a Trojan Islamist/Jihadist.
Needless to say, participants of the movement (the movement does not have a spokesperson) and Fethullah Gülen deny all of these allegations. It is important to note that the movement is active in over 150 countries around the world and has been in the public eye for the past 30 years; despite the lapse of time and the breadth of the movement's activities none of these allegations have been proved and neither Fethullah Gülen nor the movement, nor any Gülen inspired organisation have been convicted of any related criminal offence. In fact, Gülen has sought legal recourse against defamatory books and articles, clearing his name on each occasion. If there had been any truth in these allegations, we expect that it would have been proven by now.
So despite this, why are these allegations being made? There can be many reasons, depending on the where these allegations are coming from. One explanation might be because the movement empowers the grass-root masses to be better educated, upwardly socially mobile and proactive in society; thus the movement to some extent upsets social class structures leading to discontent amongst those whose interests are served by maintaining the status quo. Another is that the movement is very successful both as a model of engagement and in terms of its activities. This might be a cause of resentment amongst others envious of this success, or those ideologically prejudiced against the movement.
For more on malicious allegations, please see article 'Strategic Defamation of Fethullah Gülen: English vs. Turkish' by Dr Dogan Koc.